It was interesting to see that Mental Health Awareness Week (observed on 14 to 20 May 2018) focused upon the topic of stress and how we’re coping with it. Indeed, Mental Health Awareness Week provided a great opportunity for organisations and individuals to think about how we can all address the causes of work-related stress or find advice and support on managing stress in our daily lives.
We are all aware that various things can trigger stress for us, but recent research has found an interesting link between flexible working and reduced stress levels. Indeed, employees who do not have an option to work flexibly are twice as likely to experience work-related stress than those with flexible workdays, a survey from Vitality Health has revealed.
Britain’s healthiest workplace – an annual survey developed by Vitality Health and delivered in partnership with the University of Cambridge which studies the link between health risks and productivity – revealed that employees who do not have an opportunity to work from home or change their start/end time, lose the equivalent of four days of productive working time per year due to ill-health related absence and presenteeism.
Additionally, the survey found a direct correlation between how we travel to work and stress. Employees with at least an hour-long commute each way were 10 percent more likely to develop work-related stress than individuals who commute less than half an hour each way. Meanwhile employees who work irregular hours are 50 percent more likely to be stressed than employees who have clearer structure to their days.
Clearly then, it’s not just about what we do in our work, but also how we go about it that affects our stress levels. Furthermore, the way we work and its effect on our work/life balance can have an adverse effect on our stress levels and productivity. Productivity levels are put under strain when certain work day structures have limited flexibility, impacting both on the individual and business at large.
The good news of course is that there are various simple steps that employers can take to improve this and to reduce the possibility of high stress levels developing. Providing initiatives such as flexible working arrangements or time management training can help employees to both structure their days more effectively, and access support to alleviate the impacts of work-related stress.
Importantly though, organisations must also recognise that the need for flexible working should never be confined to the women in an organisation: there is a huge misconception that only women need to work flexibly. Furthermore, research actually supports the fact that both men and well as women seek opportunities for better work life balance: it is not just women whom are looking for flexible working practices in order to make everything ‘work’ in their lives. Recent research from the BBC has shown that men feel that they do not have the right to ask for such ‘privileges’ for fear of the consequences. Indeed, this research reported that 44% of dads have lied about family related responsibilities. Furthermore, dads who want to be more involved in the care of their children actually fear that asking for more flexibility in their working patterns and hours might actually damage their careers and prospects. To continue, there is a suggestion that fathers who ask for time out and flexibility in order to meet family commitments are in danger of their employers questioning their commitment to their job.
At Brightstar we are fully committed to supporting good mental health and wellbeing and also to offering all members of our team flexible working practices and support in their roles as parents and carers however we can. Like many in our organisation, I am a working parent who benefits from a dynamic working pattern and this is fantastic for me and for the business.
However, it’s not just about working mothers. We are thoroughly committed to ensuring that this discussion has been opened up even further. We have as many fathers as mothers with young families as well as employees who care for elder relatives, disabled relatives and those with chronic conditions. We also have employees who have family members with special needs. This is probably typical of any working environment, so what have we done to support our team?
Embraced a family culture
- Ensured that the idea of ‘The Brightstar Family’ is at the heart of the business and a strong aspect of our business culture. We believe in supporting each other within and beyond the business walls and that we operate as a cohesive team.
- We include family members in events and sharing in business achievements and milestones
- We also believe that the enjoyment and fulfilment of a good family life is key to happiness, and subsequently, success at work.
Safeguarded the concept of equality in terms of our approach, thinking and in the provision of access
- Ensured that flexible working practices are never made exclusive to particular ‘groups’ within the business, but instead made available to all as personal need demands
- Ensured that the concept of working parents describes ‘working fathers’ as well as ‘working mothers’ within the business
- Ensured that the CEO and Directors are role models in terms of being working parents and in adopting a flexible approach to work, regardless of their gender
Examples of specific support
- Adopted a sympathetic and flexible approach to team members whom are supporting elderly relatives
- Adopted a sympathetic and flexible approach to team members whom are supporting sick relatives
- Adopted a sympathetic and flexible approach to team members whom are supporting children with special needs
- Offered flexible working arrangements during school holidays, non-pupil days and when children are sick
- Allowed team members’ children to undertake work experience placements as an alternative to holiday childcare. This also supports our commitment to our Young Learners’ Programme whereby we encourage young people to learn about the world of financial services and consider a career for the future
- Provided technology and facilities plus remote access to systems for team members to work from home should the need arise
- Allowed returners to work (after maternity leave) to adopt flexible working patterns
- Encouraged paternity leave and allowed this to be flexible to meet individual need
By providing our employees with practical support and alternatives for managing their own work-life balance, we have found that they are able to find a way of working which best enables their personal wellbeing and productivity. By adopting a flexible approach to working, we also hope that we are helping team members to keep stress levels in check and to keep busy lives manageable. My belief is that you can be incredibly busy without being stressed, but you do need flexibility to ‘make it all work’.
Our findings are that people genuinely appreciate and respond positively to the opportunity to have flexibility in their working pattern. They reciprocate through offering loyalty, a strong work ethic and high productivity. I believe that changes in approach are actually very simple for many businesses to implement and yet the benefits for both the employer and employee can be quite remarkable.
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